Handsome Frank agency talk illustration pricing and licensing

The Price it Right campaign is going great guns – and we are loving talking all things pricing. Today we spoke with Jon Cockly at AOI member agency Handsome Frank about pricing for illustration commissions.

Illustration by Matt Murphy

We know illustrators can feel awkward about pricing? Why do you think this is?

I think that pricing your own work is very difficult. Art is all about expression and opening yourself up creatively. When you then have to put a price on that, it can feel very awkward and many illustrators will tend to under sell themselves so not to be perceived as arrogant. I think this is one of the key reasons why agents exist and illustrators find us useful. We separate the financial transaction from the creative process, so one doesn’t cloud the other. It also means that once the deal is thrashed out, negotiated and agreed between client and agent, the illustrator can re-enter the conversation with a clean slate.

Fee erosion – whereby commission fees get lower and lower – is an endemic problem. We need to act as one industry and stick to our guns on pricing – do you agree?

Yes it is really, really vitally important for the industry. Fees will continue to drop and clients become empowered and encouraged if they can always find someone to do the job for less money. It becomes a race to the bottom with no winners. As an industry we need to know our value and make sure that clients respect us and pay us accordingly.

The Price it Right campaign is all about knowing the value of a job, and then making a decision on what work you take and don’t take. What advice would you give illustrators pricing work?

I think it’s really important for illustrators to feel confident and to be bold when pricing work. It’s worth remembering that there is no rule book so really it’s up to the individual illustrator to decide how to price their work. No-one can tell you’re wrong, because it’s down to you and how much money you are prepared to accept for the job. There are so many factors to consider when pricing. Aside from the actual deliverables, you need to factor in the usage, potential audience and the brand association – is it positive or negative for example?  Then there are the practical factors; are you available? Do you have the time? Are the deadlines achievable? Will it mean working long hours and weekends? Of course you need to be fair and consistent when pricing, but you have the right to decide what you want to charge for a job and the client then has the choice of whether to accept your quote or not.

Pricing is a two way thing of course. Do you find commissioners sometimes don’t get it?

Clients who’ve never worked with an illustrator before often presume they ‘own’ the image that they have commissioned. In some ways illustration is this strange little corner of the universe – we have our own set of rules, our own way of working, and to those outside of the illustration world it can seem a little confusing at first. A big part of our role as agents is to help clients who’ve never commissioned illustration before and guide them through the process and how it all works. So it’s important to explain that commissioning work doesn’t mean you own it, you merely have the rights to use it in the ways defined in the usage agreement. Once that license expires, the rights are retained by the illustrator.

Why is licensing a commissioned image so important?

Retaining the rights to an image is incredibly important for an illustrator, because over time it opens a potentially huge secondary revenue stream for them. By retaining the rights, and building up a library of images that are commercially available once existing licenses expire, you have a way of monetising your previous work without having to create new images.

Licensing tends to come about one of two ways, either a client will see an existing image which is perfect for their requirements. They fall in love with it and if it’s available to license then the illustrator can agree a fee and grant a license with out having to do any additional work. The second scenario we see, is when a client wants to commission an artist but they’re too busy or unavailable to work to the clients deadlines. In this case we would look back through the artists folio of work and suggest some images which might work instead.

The great thing about licensing are that it allows you earn more income without having to create new work – but also the longer you work in the industry the bigger your back catalogue of images becomes. A bigger back catalogue obviously increases your chances of having an appropriate image for a client’s requirements.

Are there any changes in the industry that you find concerning?

I think the increasingly prevalence of non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s) is concerning. An NDA is a legal contract between a client and artist that outlines confidential information or knowledge that both parties will be sharing with one another to allow the commission to take place, with the intention of restricting access to that information from third parties. For example, the client may be giving the artist information on some aspects of their business, such as ideas or marketing plans, that they would not want any other business or competitor to know. An NDA may cover the fact that the artist cannot disclose that the NDA even exists.

The prevalence of NDA’s is something that has significantly increased in recent years, it seems to have come from the US and is now more and more common in the UK. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing at all wrong with a straight forward NDA, we take our client’s privacy very seriously and we’re happy to sign contracts which prevent us from sharing information, but many NDA’s we see these days also include terms and conditions for working together. These might be copyright grabs or even the right to emulate a style of illustration, which are obviously things to be avoided if at all possible. In our opinion terms should be discussed once we have all the information and an understanding of the brief, so the two contracts should be separate from one another.

(Great news! The AOI has now developed two template NDAs for illustrators to use. Members can find them in our online Resources)

Another concern, which again I think is mainly a US thing, is engaging an illustrator on very general ‘Work for hire’ contracts. (Work for Hire is an American legal term which means that the client is the legally recognised creator of the commissioned work and owns all rights in the work (effectively a copyright assignment). Work for Hire is not recognised under British law, however if the phrase appears in a British contract alongside wording stating that the rights in the commission will be assigned to the client as a copyright assignment, then unless challenged, the commission becomes a copyright assignment. Often a Moral Rights waiver is added alongside copyright assignments so the artist does not have to be credited and the work can be adapted without them being able to say that it negatively affects their reputation.)

Such contracts are not really designed or suitable for working an artist, they’re typically designed to be used when hiring freelance admin or IT professionals. So it’s important to flag with the client when you’re sent a generic contract which isn’t appropriate for the services you’re offering. Nine times out of ten it’s just an oversight and a bespoke contract is sent in it’s place.

Handsome Frank is a hugely successful agency – what do you put this down to?

Without a doubt the our biggest asset is the fact we work with very talented, hard working and throughly professional artists. We’re only as good as the talent on our books. No-one goes to an illustration agent because they like their name or branding, they go to them because they want access to the talent on their books. We’re under no illusions about that.

I guess the secret to attracting and retaining the best talent around is our biggest success. I would put this down to very simple and straight forward practises that are applicable to any business or industry. Building strong relationships, treating people as human beings, focusing on long term goals and supporting people through bad times as well as good. We’ve always had the mindset that we want to work with illustrators for 20 years plus, not 20 minutes. We try to support our artists and help them whether that be financially, or encouraging them to take time off, move countries or even abandon work for months on end in pursuit of travelling the world or just taking a break. Life is about balance and being a freelancer often your life can lack that balance, so we’re very supportive of our artists rebalancing things from time to time.

On the client side, I think our success has come from the simply talking to people. Whether it’s on the phone, in a face to face meeting, or via social media, publishing newspapers or commissioning films. Our intention has always been to simply start a conversation, tell people about all the great talent we have access to and then leave it to them to decide how, when and where to utilise that talent. I’m a great believer in being proactive, we’ve never been the type of agency that sits back and waits for the phone to ring – perhaps that comes from my background in selling advertising. I feel that this ethos has served us well and allowed us to work with a huge mix of companies, of all different sizes right across the world.

Handsome Frank agency

More on the Price It Right campaign


19th July 2018
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